Kyoto may be rich beyond avarice when it come to temples and tourism, but what about the simple pleasures of cracking open a good book, in a language you understand? Here we list the (very predominantly) English language bookstores we could find in and around downtown Kyoto.
Note; when on the hunt for foreign language books, look out for the sign 語学/gogaku, which literally translates as language.
One might argue that there need only be one establishment on this list, and that is the above mentioned Book Off. The second hand specialist can be hit and miss, at times. In this case, though, it’s a resounding hit.
Located on the 8th floor of the OPA shopping center on Kawaramachi Dori, this Book Off branch is a big operation, in the middle of which you’ll find an aisle almost exclusively dedicated to foreign language literature. Across three long bookcases, and a few bargain baskets, we list here the genres on offer …
music, outdoor, history
game, travel, nature
biography, philosophy, psychology
education, design, art books
interior, garden, health
children, medical, business/computer
language, kids books, comics/graphic novels
Oh, and a (nearly) complete alphabet of paperback novels (and some hardbacks).
Whilst the vast majority of books are in English, we did spot some French, Latin, German, Italian, and Greek materials in the language/linguistics section.
Prices start from the Book Off standard of 200-300 yen range.
If the books aren’t enough, there is also a huge collection of CDs to leaf through.
The only way one could be disappointed here, is if you’re after something, well, brand new. In which case …
Avanti Book Center
On the south side of Kyoto Station, just across the road, you can't miss Kyoto Avanti, a shopping center that probably regrets not being north of the station (where all the action is). It is literally, on the wrong side of the tracks. Still, it does house the Avanti Book Center, a useful source of new English language books. Tucked away to one side, a small aisle of books houses a limited collection of paperback novels, but very little in the way of classics. The biography section has the usual suspects; Clinton, Steve Jobs, Sir Alex Ferguson ... . There's a decent looking collection of English language manga. We spotted Attack On Titan, Dragon Ball, Naruto, Gintama, One Piece, and Rurouni Kenshin, among others. The Japanese literature section has some Soseki, Murakami, and a brick-sized copy of Shikibu's Tale of Genji (3,000 yen).
English teachers will find textbooks including the mind-numbing Pathways series, as well as those from National Geographic, Cambridge, and Oxford University Press.
Magazines include Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Vogue, National Geographic, and Eye-Ai.
The stationary section at Avanti Book Center has a few greetings cards, but there must be better options elsewhere.
We spotted a couple of these in Kyoto’s downtown area.
The first branch we visited is on Shijo Dori, between Kawaramachi and Karasuma Stations. A sign in English (at the entrance) tells you where the English language books are. The 2nd floor has a single bookcase offering a few travel guides to Japan, maps, and some coffee table/photo books of gardens, temples etc in Japan.
On the 5th floor you’ll find a fantastic selection of texts for learning Japanese, including the standard bearer for beginners, Minna no Nihongo! Of the novels, shelves groan under the weight of movie adapted lit. like Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, Harry Potter, and the complete set of Anne of Green Gables. There aren't many classics, but you can pick up copies of Anna Karenina, and War & Peace! A very good selection of Murakami sits alongside loads of airport trash from the likes of Dan Brown, Geoffrey Archer, and John Grisham.
The second branch of Junkudo offers a better selection of paperbacks. Classics are better served too, with the likes of Conrad, Steinbeck, D.H. Lawrence, Dostoevsky and Dickens all present. You can find Japanese study texts here, but the branch above is a better option. A whole bookshelf bears the weight of some heavy looking art/photography books. We couldn’t find any travel guides.
It seems hard to find this branch Junkudo on the web; a lot of information lists it as a Maruzen. Whilst there does seem to be a relationship between the two (online at least), physically you’re looking for a sign which reads Junkudo. Walk north from Kawaramachi Station along Kawaramachi Dori. It’s on the right-hand side, 4th floor. There is a Family Mart on the 1st floor, fronting the street.
More of a curiosity really, rather than a legitimate English language resource. It’s a curiosity driven by online rumors and articles that list this as one of the best bookstores in the world. No doubt this proves great advertising, for if you’re in Kyoto and you love books, who isn’t going to check out one of the best bookstores in the world?
The problem for an article like this, though, is that there are hardly any English language texts here. We only spotted, How To Boil An Egg by Rose Bakery, and something called Encounters With The 30s. Lack of English lit. aside, Keibunsha is gorgeous in a very bookish way. It’s all rich mahoganies, warm lights, and wall to ceiling, corner to corner books, each one looking like a hand-picked favorite. Keibunsha also mixes it up with a gallery, stationery shop, cafe and other nick nacks to peruse (and buy, one supposes). All in, it’s a delightful experience (even if you can’t read anything). So, if you love books, put on your corduroy blazer, slip on some horn-rimmed specs, and get down there.
Keibunsha is a short walk from Ichijoji Station on the Eizan Line. Maps are a little tricky to read as there seem to be no street signs. Any local can point you in the right direction.
As always, we encourage you to share the wealth, so let us know of any other foreign language book resources in the Kyoto area.